How to Begin Mixed Martial Arts

Mixed Martial Arts (MMA) is a full contact combat sport, known also as cage fighting or ultimate fighting. The main features of MMA are its exciting combination of striking and grappling techniques from standing or seated or ground positions, allowing a range of sports persons with fighting training to compete.[1]

While the sheer physicality and potential for getting hurt involved in MMA workouts are not to everyone's liking, done well they can be an excellent workout, a lot of fun, and if you're really good, it might even be a career. If you're interested and keen on giving it a try, at the very least you'll find out whether it's for you or not, and at the most, it's likely you'll enjoy the experience.


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    Consider what you want from getting involved in MMA. Do you want to fight in a cage or ring? Do you want to get a good workout and learn basic fighting skills? Do you want to mainly grapple, or go full contact? Although you can always change your mind later, it is important to think about your end goal before you really get into your training, as this will guide your choices and your own limits. Importantly, what is your current martial arts background? Any of the following martial arts backgrounds form a great basis for getting involved in MMA:
    • Karate, muay Thai, judo, catch wrestling, amateur wrestling, and Brazilian jiu-jitsu.[2]
    • And common techniques or moves that are useful for MMA include: boxing, kickboxing, kneeing, punching, elbowing, footwork, clinching, take-downs, throws, striking, wrestling, submission holds, etc.[3] You may know some of these already or you may have to be prepared to learn a much wider range of martial arts techniques if you're fairly new to any martial arts.
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    Talk to people you know who train in MMA. You may be very surprised to find out how many people around train in some form or another of MMA. These people can be very good sources of information regarding different schools and their training methods. Some schools are very serious, training people to fight at the amateur or pro level, while other schools are more relaxed. Ask them why they prefer one approach over another, to help you make up your own mind as to what you prefer.
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    Visit a few schools or classes. Most reputable schools will let you sit in and watch a class. Pay close attention to teaching methods, as well as the interaction between fighters. If you like what you see, ask the class instructor if you can come back for a trial lesson, usually free or very cheap. It is important for the instructor to assess your abilities and to place you in an appropriate beginner's stream when first starting, as you'll have a lot to learn.
    • Find a school that you like, with people you like. You're going to get very close and swap a lot of sweat. Don't be afraid to go some place else if you are not happy.
    • Find out about what you're going to do in classes. This is very important! There is a chance that you will get hurt, even during your first class. Are you prepared mentally and financially for this? Be sure that you are, and keep in mind that other people besides yourself may be affected if you are injured. Ask all you can about the classes and what ways that the school tries hard to ensure that beginners can learn without injury, etc.
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    Get your gear together. You'll need to consider both clothing and protective gear.
    • In terms of basic body clothing, men tend to wear shorts and t-shirt, while women wear sports bras and shorts.[4]
    • In terms of protective gear, it is important for men to wear groin protectors, and for all fighters to wear a mouthpiece. It's very important to properly fit the mouthpiece, so if you're not sure how, ask someone to help you.
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    Attend your first class. You'll probably be a bit nervous, and you'll likely be fired up to prove yourself but there is no need to feel this way! Don't be nervous about how bad you will look; everyone was a beginner once. Try to fit in, and just take in the experience.
    • Relax. The biggest mistake that new people tend to make is that they do not know how to relax. Don't think that you're going to be great the first day, or that you need to submit someone to show that you belong. When you "go too hard", all you're going to do is wear yourself out, and probably get yourself or someone else hurt.
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    Focus on breathing properly. Unless you have wrestled, sparred in martial arts or boxed before this experience, you're probably not ready to know how it feels to have someone punch or kick you. You're probably not ready to have someone lay their body on your chest, taking your breath away. The key is to maintain long, steady breaths. Many people forget to breathe, depriving themselves of the oxygen their body and muscles need to work. Find yourself a good instructor who will take you through the breathing requirements and talk about reactions and expectations before you're actually subjected to them. Question instructors who do not do this for beginners.
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    Listen to everything, especially the small details. The majority of what you'll learn is based on technique. If you do not learn good technique from the outset, you will always have problems with your fighting skills. Learning MMA often means making very small adjustments to what you're doing and already know from your other fighting experience, but be open to these changes because in MMA, they make all the difference in the world. Too many people think that they do not have to pay attention to the small details. After a while, these people become frustrated and sometimes tend to quit because nothing they do works.
    • Learn the MMA lingo. There will be a lot of new words and phrases for you to grasp initially. It's a good idea to borrow books on MMA, or to do some online reading, so that you're aware of what all the terms mean and of any special abbreviations, exclamations, and fight talk.
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    Finally but importantly, learn when it's appropriate to tap. "Tap" is MMA speak for "quitting or giving up". And as a learner, knowing your limits is a sign of strength and smarts, not a sign of weakness. Pushing yourself too far, too beyond your skills-base will get you hurt and may put you off continuing with MMA. When something hurts, or you feel yourself about to be hurt, tap! You aren't tougher than everyone else. Many MMA techniques only take a very little bit of movement to go from pain to serious injury. There will always be someone there, maybe much bigger or much smaller than you, who can hurt you. Swallow your pride, and remember you are ultimately there to learn. In time, your strength, skill, and MMA prowess will grow considerably; until then, keep self-preservation foremost in your training mind.


  • Watch as many fights as you can, but never think that you can learn the sport just by watching it on TV. You can get a good idea of how things work, but training and practice are the only things that will make you a fighter. Equally, this article is merely inspirational; you'll only know whether MMA is right for you and how it feels by getting out there and trying it.
  • Always remember: Take care of yourself, and those that you train with. If you are injured, your partners suffer, just as you'll suffer when they're injured. It is no fun to show up to an empty class because everyone is at home hurt.


  • You will get hurt at some point. Maybe cuts and bruises, a black eye, and maybe much worse. Be prepared, and always protect yourself.
  • This is a very fast growing sport, and the business end has grown just as fast. There are many schools that have been opened to capitalize on the sport's popularity. And as a result, quality varies widely. Check the instructor's credentials, and ask around. You are going to have to pay for your training, and that money should go to someone who deserves it. After all, your safety is in their hands.
  • Do not sign a contract AT ALL. Schools that offer contracts don't have a belief that what they teach and how they teach it will retain students. Some schools will tell you, well, we're offering a contract because we don't want you to get discouraged and quit impulsively. The fact is, not everyone is suited for this type of activity and those who do quit are probably right to do it. And they can always come back if they want. Contracts are about the school making a buck, with no benefit to the student.

Things You'll Need

  • Protective cup
  • Mouthpiece
  • MMA training gloves (not bag gloves)
  • Boxing gloves
  • Shin pads, Muay Thai style
  • Headgear
  • Appropriate clothing

Sources and Citations

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